Information theory

Fairthorne’s theory of notification is an elegant example of a theory in information science

Fairthorne’s theory of notification clarifies the foundations of information science. He defined ‘notification’ as ‘mention and delivery of recorded messages to users’, listing as the main elements of library operations: (1) Source (e.g., authors), (2) Code (e.g., language of a book), (3) Message (the signal), (4) Channel (e.g., microfilms), (5) Destination (e.g., reader) and (6) Designation (subject description).

Nitecki, Joseph Z. 1995. Philosophical Aspects of Library Information Science in Retrospect.



The scope of our activities and studies lie inside Discourse but outside Signaling, i.e., outside the scope of Shannon’s Information Theory. The variables involved are, in general terms, Source, Destination, Designation, and Message, Channel, Code. In the present context a Code is a symbol system used to indicate choices made from a set of Messages, and represented by patterns of physical events (signals or inscriptions) consistent with the physical mode and conditions of communication, the Channel, in the given social and physical environment.
Formally the Message set is adequately defined as an agreed finite set of distinct identifiable entities, from which choices are made by Sources. Here we regard it also as drawn from what can be told in a given recorded language. The Sources are those within the given environment who tell it, in the sense of being agreed and identifiable publishers, distributors, organizations, or accepted authors. The latter need not be actual authors. From the present point of view the works of Shakespeare, or of anonymous authors, are those records that tile local retrieval tools attribute to “Shakespeare,” or to “anon.” Tile Destinations are those within the given environment who are to be told, or wish to be told. They must be identifiable, but otherwise may be organizations, functionaries, groups, or individuals. A set of Designations is assigned to Messages, Sources, or Destinations to characterize them according to what is told, or is to be told. They are aspects of what the particular discourse is “about,” in some operational sense. For example, Subject Indexing assigns topics to the messages; author indexes may be classified by subject matter; Selective Dissemination of Information designates executives according to what they should be told about. Clearly the same set of Designations can be assigned differently according to circumstances. A reader (Destination) may well differ with the author (Source) as to the main interest (Designation) of an article (Message).

source: Morphology of “Information Flow” Robert A. Fairthorne. Journal of the ACM. Volume 14 , Issue 4 (October 1967)

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Oct 12, 2007  ]

Solovyov’s Meaning of Love

While looking for the online text of Beauty in Nature and The Meaning of Love by Solovyov, I found the various online resources maintained by Michael Lee, a professor in the Department of Psychology of the University of Manitoba. I found Michael Lee’s page while looking for essays by Solovyov, and so I will add that Lee mentions him in a page called “Required Reading for Revolters“. This is what he said about Solovyov’s The Meaning of Love:


Solovyov lived from 1853 to 1900. I find him the most profound and prescient Christian theologian and visionary. He believed that romantic love was potentially the instrument for effecting the kind of spiritual transformation that would enable us to attain physical immortality and to realize the Kingdom of God on earth.

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Apr 11, 2007  ]

Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Vladimir Solovyov

Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov is one of my favorite books. The following is a quote by the Gnostic monk, Father Zossima:

What isolation?” I asked him The isolation that you find everywhere, particularly in our age. But it won’t come to an end right now, because the time has not yet come. Today everyone asserts his own personality and strives to live a full life as an individual. But these efforts lead not to a full life but to suicide, because, instead of realizing his personality, man only slips into total isolation. For in our age mankind has been broken up into self-contained individuals, each of whom retreats into his lair, trying to stay away from the rest of mankind, and finally isolating himself from people and people from him. And, while he accumulates material wealth in his isolation, he thinks with satisfaction how mighty and secure he has become, because he is mad and cannot see that the more goods he accumulates, the deeper he sinks into suicidal impotence. The reason for this is that he has become accustomed to relying only on himself; he has split off from the whole and become an isolated unit; he has trained his soul not to rely on human help, not to believe in men and mankind, and only worry that the wealth and privileges he has accumulated may get lost. Everywhere men today are turning scornfully away from the truth that the security of the individual cannot be achieved by his isolated efforts but only by mankind as a whole.”

Brothers Karamazov, Chapter 2 Recollections of Father Zossima’s Youth before he became a Monk.

Reading the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov felt like discovery.  Solovyov’s influence can be seen in Dostoyevsky’s characters’ discussions about nihilism and its rejection through faith.

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from  Feb 08, 2007]

Complexity, Metcalfe’s Law and Simplicity

Complexity can be defined as the number of components of a system, the number of relations between those components and the level of asymmetry in the structure of relations.

see also: What is complexity? by F. Heylighen

Robert Metcalfe, inventor of the Ethernet, is also the author of Metcalfe’s Law which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system.

In the July 2006 IEEE Spectrum, Bob Briscoe, Odlyzko and Tilly argue that Metcalfe’s Law is Wrong because it overestimates the value of each connection. Reed’s law, on the contrary, suggests that Metcalfe’s law underestimates the value of adding connections since each member of the network is connected to individuals as well as subsets of the whole.

Metalfe’s law is general enough to be applicable to many systems. It has been used recently, for example, to argue for the “exponential” benefits of RDF and the semantic web


“the value of your information grows exponentially with your ability to combine it with new information.”

source: RDF and Metcalf’s law

In considering simplicity (the opposite of complexity?) in the context of interface design, I thought that this recent article by Luke Wroblewski made a pragmatic distinction between perception and reality


Many of us carry a few preconceived notions about simplicity. We assume things that are easy to use don’t have a lot of options and, as a result, shouldn’t appear cluttered when we first encounter them. In the world of product design, this means plenty of whitespace, clear calls to action, and an overall reduction of content—in the form of visual elements such as type, images, lines, colors, shapes, and so on. When a product has these attributes, we are more likely to assume it is easy to use. It’s quite possible that it might not be, but the perception of simplicity is there.

Conversely, a perception of complexity can turn customers, clients, or business stakeholders off before they ever actually use a product. In a worst-case scenario, an evaluation based on an opinion that “this looks cluttered; therefore, it must be difficult to use” can prevent customers from ever even trying a product out. But as Don Norman recently suggested, an initial impression of complexity might actually be an artifact of a product’s simplicity. In “The Truth About Google’s So-called ‘Simplicity’[…]

source: Complexity of Simplicity in UX matters

[Edited from Photomedia Forum posts by T.Neugebauer Jun – Dec, 2006]

Critical Inquiry – Special Issue on Photography

The  Summer 2012 issue of Critical Inquiry is devoted to the philosophy of photography, in particular, questions of automatism and agency. The editors of the Special Issue on Photography, Diarmuid Costello and Margaret Iversen, point out that two key papers published in Critical Inquiry have had a particular impact on the debate in philosophy of photography: Roger Scruton’s argument that photography is not a representational art in “Photography and Representation” and Kendall Walton’s “Transparent Pictures.”

The Contributors to the issue include philosophers, photographers, and art historians: Carol Armstrong, Diarmuid Costello, Margaret Iversen, Robin Kelsey, Susan Laxton, Dominic McIver Lopes, Patrick Maynard, and Jeff Wall.

Unfortunately, the issue is not available open access.

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Sep 27, 2012 ]

Sublime Limits of Representation

Truly interdisciplinary works of high quality are very rare, because they require the kind of intellectual discipline and curiosity that allows for understanding and insight into not one, but many disciplines that are customarily separated by theoretical and linguistic differences. The recently published James Elkins’ Six Stories from the End of Representation is a fascinating look at the limits of representation in art and science with chapters devoted to painting, photography, astronomy, microscopy, particle physics and quantum mechanics.

The motivation for the book is the writing of a work that does not favor either art nor science at the expense of the other – instead of looking at science through the language and methods of the humanities (or vice-versa), each is treated with their respective conventions.


Serious art and serious science remain very different, and people who study their connections end up looking at special cases that can’t, I think, add to a plausible account of wider movements and ideas.

(As usual, Tim Clark has the best phrase for this—it’s somewhere in Farewell to an Idea—he says “art usually dines very poorly on the leavings of science.”)

So my idea in this book is to stop finding causal connections between art and sciences. Instead I’m trying to find ways of talking about scientific and non-scientific images together, without special pleading or popularization.

In terms of the “science wars” (the book’s second ancillary purpose): it seems essential to me to try not to simplify either the relevant science or the art.

There has been a bit too much low-level squabbling recently between scientists and humanists, especially since Alan Sokal’s hoax and his subsequent book, and Bruno Latour’s playful, and, I think, somewhat irresponsible rewriting of special relativity.

source: Report on a Book Project Titled How Pictures Die: Six Stories from the End of Representation by James Elkins


The first chapter begins with the concept of sublimity, most notably, Immanuel Kant. Kant described the sublime as a mathematical or dynamic experience in his Critique of Judgement. Elkins returns to Kant’s theory throughout the book, the dynamic sublime,


One of Kant’s examples, and still the standard one, is a stormy ocean. By sheer force, the ocean denies us the freedom to act or to move as we will. It is Kant’s idea that a person confronting a tumultuous sea will first be paralyzed and humbled, and then begin thinking of how people avoid drowning: how they navigate the ocean, and how they are, in the end, independent of it. That train of thought is essentially a defense, and it brings with it a comforting sense of detachment […] For Kant, the feeling of the dynamic sublime arises from the contrast between two mental states: first the abject dependence on unmasterable forces, and then the freedom that comes with the awareness that thinking is a different kind of experience.

James Elkins’ Six Stories from the End of Representation ( p.28 )


and the mathematical sublime,


Kant defines it as an experience of something unencompassable, so large that it exceeds our capacity for comprehension. His example, the starry sky, is also one of my subjects in this book. At first, confronted with the starry sky, a viewer is dazzled, confused, and – again – humbled. Then she tries to employ some concept to help her comprehend the incomprehensible heavens: say for example the concept of infinity. The viewer says to herself, “This is infinite,” and for a moment she is comforted. But there follows a third moment (Kant’s analysis is typically intricate) when it becomes clear that the “manifold” object is too expansive to be understood. It cannot be gathered under a single concept, a single intuition. And further: the concept itself, in this case infinity, is not directly experienced, but somehow known. There follows a fourth and final moment when the viewer realizes that her innate capacity to reason is what drives the desire to encompass an unencompassable object with an inadequate concept. Even though the attempt to understand the object fails, the viewer becomes aware of a mysterious, inbuilt capacity to try to match her imagination to objects: a capacity that includes the very idea of a fully adequate concept even though no such concept can be imagined. The game is lost, but she knows that she has a “supersensible” faculty, which allows her to think about such things as infinity and the correspondence between inadequate concepts and unknowable objects. “The bare capacity of thinking this infinite without contradiction,” Kant says, “requires in the human mind a faculty that is itself supersensible [das selbst übersinnlich ist].” That is the sublime: a pleasure that comes from displeasure – the displeasure of realizing that the imagination has been, and will always be, defeated.

James Elkins’ Six Stories from the End of Representation ( p.29 )


Elkins emphasizes that the book is philosophy only in the sense that philosophy is sophophagic (“it eats other disciplines”) and the theme of of the book, representation, is a concept of study in philosophy; however, he avoids what he terms “philosophic vocabulary of representation” such as Vorstellung, Darstellung, Idea, simulacrum, eidolon, imago. I can understand the temptation to focus on the language of the philosophy of representation in any attempt to find a connecting principle between art and science – but that would result in another philosophy book to be read by professional philosophers, whereas Elkins intention was to create a book to be read by scholars in the humanities and natural scientists alike. I think that he succeeds in this.

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from  Sept 7, 2008 ]

Carl Jung’s The Undiscovered Self

I was drawn to my first C.G. Jung book by the cover, silver material that served as a mirror. When I first picked up the 1979 edition of The Undiscovered Self at The Word bookstore on Milton Street, I found myself reflected in it. Although tacky somehow, it was nevertheless a clever play on the theme of self-discovery. Time magazine used the same trick on their cover when they recently announced that the person of the year is you.

The inside blurb calls this short book Jung’s “most prophetic – and most influential”. It has certainly proved to be somewhat prophetic of today’s ongoing debate about religion and science. The Undiscovered Self speaks of a growing rift between faith and knowledge, a contrast that “has become so enormous that one is obliged to speak of the incommensurability of these two categories and their way of looking at the world.”

Jung avoids the common pitfall of today which seems to reduce the debate to caricatures completely ignorant of the opposing point of view. He distinguishes between religion which expresses a subjective relationship to certain metaphysical factors and a creed which merely gives expression to a collective belief. Religion is understood in the broad sense, including the relationship of the individual to the metaphysical and the world of dreams, feelings and intuitions. Science, on the other hand, is the rationalistic, statistical and theoretical part of understanding. Self-knowledge, according to Jung, cannot be achieved by abandoning either of these facets.

Rationalized scientific theories are by definition generalized truths that attempt to go beyond the individual case, yet self-knowledge requires special attention to those things that are unique, individual and defy generalization


Since self-knowledge is a matter of getting to know the individual facts, theories help very little in this respect. For the more a theory lays claim to universal validity, the less capable it is of doing justice to the individual facts. Any theory based on experience is necessarily statistical; that is to say, it formulates an ideal average which abolishes all exceptions at either end of the scale and replaces them by an abstract mean. This mean is quite valid, though it need not necessarily occur in reality. ( p.8 )


Statistical methods show us an ideal average, not empirical reality; distinctive facts are individual. The real picture could consist of nothing but exceptions,

There is and can only be self-knowledge based on theoretical assumptions, for the object of self-knowledge is an individual – a relative exception and an irregular phenomenon. ( p.9 ) 

The individual cannot be understood as a “recurrent unit” but as something unique and singular. Jung admits that man is also a “member of a species” to be described as a statistical, comparative unit from which “all individual features have been removed.” This gives us knowledge about the human species, but it does not give us understanding of the individual since it is these ‘removed’ features that are necessary for understanding.

It is possible to store and accumulate knowledge in the form of memories. Understanding cannot be stored in the same way because understanding refers to events and experiences, of which only the memories can be partially preserved. Perhaps it is these memories that are the basis of our knowledge, but the relationship to the experience of understanding is ultimately unknown.

When I attended Marvin Minsky’s presentation on artificial intelligence at Concordia University last year, he was unequivocal about the fact that “experience” is much too ambiguous a term to be used in any definition of understanding. He went on to claim that hearing the term ‘experience’ is a signal for him that the person uttering it is worthy only of dismissal. This was not the most controversial of his statements that afternoon: he seemed to go out of his way to insist that religion is to blame for most of the world’s failures, including stagnating progress in science and technology and the failure to deliver real artificial intelligence. For Minsky, understanding is reducible to neural and semantic nets, representations of structure and function. According to his view, insight, illumination and creativity are all “common sense terms”, like consciousness itself, along with empathy, moral reflection and sense of identity; all are in reality too ambiguous and when correctly defined, reducible to structure and function. He seemed to blame religion itself for the fact that his structure-functional definitions of these terms have yet to take over the normative meaning.

Jung writes of the incompleteness of the scientific view of an individual

Judged scientifically, the individual is nothing but a unit which repeats itself ad infinitum and could just as well be designated with a letter of the alphabet. ( p.11 ) 

Czeslaw Milosz’ Captive Mind does precisely that, designating the characters not by the names of the individuals on which the stories are based, but by the letters of the Greek alphabet Alpha, Beta, Gama and Delta. Jacques Ellul argues that propagandists address their influence to individuals understood solely as interchangeable units, he writes in the first chapter of Propaganda: On the Formation of Man’s Attitudes,

Modern propaganda reaches individuals enclosed in the mass, yet it also aims at a crowd, but only as a body composed of individuals. What does this mean? First of all, that the individual is never considered as an individual, but always in terms of what he has in common with others, such as his motivations, his feelings, or his myths. He is reduced to an average; and except for a small percentage, action based on averages will be effectual. (p. 6) 


With books by Dawkins and Hitchens on the best seller lists, ‘scientific’ attacks against religion have become a common part of popular culture. Jung points out that at the time of his writing The Undiscovered Self, the basic conviction of the day is becoming “increasingly rationalistic”. Moreover, the growing conflict between faith and knowledge “is a symptom of the split consciousness which is so characteristic of the mental disorder of our day.” Jung actually describes this split as a neurotic disturbance at the social level,

In view of this, it does not help matters at all if one party pulls obstinately to the right and the other to the left. This is what happens in every neurotic psyche, to its own deep distress, and it is just this distress that brings the patient to the doctor. ( p.74 )


[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from  Feb 18, 2008 ]

InPhO – dynamic philosophy ontology

The Indiana Philosophy Ontology (InPhO) Project creates a dynamic formal ontology for the discipline of philosophy. The site allows you to browse the taxonomy and search Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Noesis (this was a search engine for open access, academic philosophy on the Internet) and Google Scholar. The project is described in the 2007 Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (JCDL) paper (ACM) and FirstMonday article.

[Edited from Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from October 29, 2007]

His Holiness Dalai Lama speaks with neuroscientists

“Craving, suffering, and choice: Spiritual and scientific explorations of human experience”,  was the  title of one of the 3 events that took place at Stanford University in the fist week of November in 2005. There were also two other events on meditation and nonviolence. Although all of these were broadcast live over the Internet, it seems like only the collaborative meetings between His Holiness and the neuroscientists from Neuroscience Institute were available as video streams at the time, from the Internet Archive, “Craving and Choice” and “Suffering and Choice”, but both of these streams are now irretrievable

This type of collaboration is long overdue and gives me hope in academic research. It was particularly interesting to witness the contrast of approach in the morning session. Dalai Lama seems genuinely ‘confused’ as to how localizing particular ‘cravings’ in the brain and inhibiting them with drugs is considered medicine, since as he points out, this approach does not differentiate between necessary/good desires and afflicted cravings. Given that the same part of the brain can be responsible for different cravings at different times (the brain is highly adaptive), drug therapy of this sort would lead to a chase around the brain resulting in ‘disaster’: comatose patient without any desires whatsoever. The neuroscientist had a real difficult time accepting that he must be able to differentiate between those desires which are necessary (like thirst for water when you need it) and those which are afflicted, whereas the Dalai Lama thought the approach of eliminating ‘desire’ without making such a decision puzzling.

see also:
Thoughts on the mind from the Dalai Lama (Stanford Medicine Magazine)

Mind and Life Institute 

I could not find, among the webcasts available online, a link to videos of the September 2003 conference “Investigating the Mind”. A recent book, The Dalai Lama at MIT, documents the discussions during this 2003 meeting between the Dalai Lama and various scientists and scholars: Ajahn Amaro, Marlene Behrmann, Jonathan Cohen, Richard J. Davidson, Georges Dreyfus, R. Adam Engle, Daniel Gilbert, Tenzin Gyatso, Anne Harrington, Thupten Jinpa, Jerome Kagan, Daniel Kahneman, Nancy Kanwisher, Dacher Keltner, Stephen M. Kosslyn, Eric Lander, David E. Meyer, Daniel Reisberg, Matthieu Ricard, Evan Thompson, Anne Treisman, B. Alan Wallace, Arthur Zajonc. The topics discussed include attention, emotion, imagery and visualization. One of the major ways in which Western science departs from the Buddhist view is that the former characterizes emotions based on valence (positive/negative) and arousal (strength), whereas the latter makes the distinction between destructive/afflictive/nonvirtuous emotions and those that are virtuous or ethically neutral.

[Edited from Photomedia Forum posts from March 26, 2007]